One of the ways we build our wardrobes is “upgrading”–buying better versions of things we already know we like. And the fashion industry knows this. We’ve been buying designer jeans for decades, and for a long time now, brands have been selling pretty much every basic with “lux” in front of it, from cargo pants to white tees. It sometimes seems like a race to see who can make the most expensive X.
That said, clothing in general is as inexpensive as ever. Low inflation and cheap labor have kept prices for basic consumer goods low for a long time. A Hanes 3-pack costs $10 in 2019 ($3.33/shirt), compared to a $5.31 retail price in 1970 ($34.45 in 2019 dollars) for a 3-pack of Sears t-shirts (over $11/shirt).
Bottom line, if you’re looking for cloth to cover your body, you can find it cheap; maybe cheaper than ever. If you’re looking for interesting things, it can be more difficult. In an era of $1,000 sneakers and $3 tshirts, what can $50 get you today? I did some shopping and found 10 items worth buying right now for $50.
- A denim jacket (~$50). Denim is a great, not really all that practical fabric for jackets. At least where I live, the season where they make sense is pretty short, and it’s fast approaching. Levis type III jackets, aka truckers, are widely available “vintage” for $50 so long as you’re not that picky about era / details. If you want a new one? Levis’ current model is $70, but J. Crew happens to have their design (a lightweight denim type III style) on sale right now for $49.
- A Polo dad cap ($45). The original hat preferred by actual dads worldwide. Soft, shapeless, and familiar–just like dad. Coincidentally, they’re comfortable and washable, so you can wear them until they’re gross and sweat stained, but then actually clean them and wear them again, without buying one of these.
- A graphic tee ($25-$50). I’ve appreciated the weird cool tshirt movement in part because it renders interesting design accessible. As a result, I have a drawer entirely full of tshirts no one “gets.” Sure, there’s a lot of mediocre graphic tshirt design out there, but if you find one you dig, it can get a lot of wear, and you’re not out much dough. Some designs I like right now: Black Lodges redacted tee, Pink’s Inks “Balck Flag” shirt, Noah Tragedy of the Commons shirt, Stussy 90s style “oval” shirt, Uniqlo Keith Haring shirts.
- A quality plain tshirt ($14.95- $42.50). Unlike with graphic tees, I’m pretty picky about the make on my plain tshirts–I generally like a tight knit and a heavier fabric. For years I bought J. Crew pocket shirts, but as the trend has moved toward looser shirts (and I’ve gotten a little older and softer myself) I’ve looked for bigger fits. I’ve really liked Uniqlo’s U line shirts, and the new pocket tshirt looks terrific, especially for $15. They also have an interesting half sleeve model. I also like Standard Issue Tees basic shirts, at $30–they’re solidly made with a resilient knit that doesn’t get stretched out. 3sixteen’s tshirts are also well made and cut–certainly closer to the body than the other models here. Their unit cost is under $50, although they’re sold in 2-packs.
- A new knit tie ($35-$45). Silk knits are some of the easiest ties to wear–that is, they go with many shirt/jacket combinations, and they’re informal and not fussy. The Knottery’s new, slightly fancier ties look fantastic and exceed our $50 limit just a bit, but they still carry basic knits in solids and stripes for under $50.